Wedding jitters understandable, but not the lies

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2005

Friday night was a sleepless night for me, one of many in recent weeks spent worrying about my upcoming wedding. Did I spell the names on the invitations correctly? Will our guests enjoy the reception?

So I happened to be watching CNN when Georgia bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks’ family announced she had been found alive in New Mexico, after what she said was a harrowing few days at the hands of abductors.

I had been fascinated by the story from the beginning &045; what future bride couldn’t relate to a tragic tale in which a woman just days from the happiest moment in her life simply disappears?

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I finally fell asleep after watching Wilbanks’ jubilant family and the community that helped search for her celebrate on the lawn outside her house.

When I woke the next morning to find that she made up the whole story of abduction, I felt as duped as if I’d been part of the search party myself.

I can understand if Wilbanks was anxious about her nuptials, which were to have taken place Saturday night.

What I cannot understand is how she could have lied to everyone &045; and put her family, especially her fiance, through such a terrible ordeal.

But therein lies the interest in this story, which dragged a family’s personal tragedy, triumph and, ultimately, embarrassment through our 24-hour news cycle.

The &8220;runaway bride,&8221; as she’s now known in the media, offers us the perfect example of the anatomy of a news story in today’s voyeuristic times.

My own fiance doesn’t understand how I could be caught up in such a sordid tale. But it has all the marks of a good story &045; even if it doesn’t follow nearly any of the textbook &8220;news values&8221; I learned in journalism school.

Let’s test this story versus some of those values:

Impact &045; A story has news value if it affects a lot of people. Missing bride-to-be in Georgia versus Social Security reform? You can guess which impacts more Americans, but Jennifer Wilbanks took up the majority of the news cycle on Saturday. She got more press after they found her than she did when they were trying to get her face out to the public.

Prominence &045; Stories become more important when they involve important people. No one knew Jennifer Wilbanks before Tuesday night, other than the 600 people invited to her wedding. Even Michael Jackson trial analysis got put on hold to cover Wilbanks.

Proximity &045; A character in one of my favorite newspaper movies uses the phrase &8220;None from New York&8221; to describe why a story halfway around the world has no interest to her newspaper’s readers. Still, Wilbanks is from a small suburb of Atlanta, but the cops who picked her up in Albuquerque recognized her from the news.

Perhaps the only news value that holds true here is unusualness &045; and let’s be honest, that almost always trumps every other indicator of a good story. It is unusual for a bride with cold feet to go to such lengths to avoid the altar. The family we sympathized with when she went missing is the same group of people who feel for now, as they ride a roller coaster of emotions.

As for me, I don’t think I’ll be taking notes on Jennifer Wilbanks’ actions. I might still worry about the menu or the favors, but I think the rest of my life is going to be just fine.

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at